Before Bob Macey and Arlene Jabbour met across the ballot box, they met across the barber's chair.
Ms. Jabbour used to own a salon before her stint on West Mifflin council, and she had a regular customer in Mr. Macey, who served as treasurer for her husband's state representative campaign. The two West Mifflin residents were friends who would chat regularly.
Now, they're political rivals.
In May, Ms. Jabbour will challenge Mr. Macey, the incumbent, for the Democratic nomination for county council District 9, which covers McKeesport, Duquesne and much of the Mon Valley.
Both candidates have similar political priorities -- more economic development and infrastructure development for the district's stricken steel towns -- but at least one of them has left their barbershop friendship behind.
"Mr. Macey just seems like he likes to get his picture in the paper all the time," Ms. Jabbour said. "He gives out proclamations left and right. And you never hear what he's done on council."
Mr. Macey, a former steelworker whose own transformation into a nonprofit organizer and credit union manager could be a blueprint for the Mon Valley, begs to differ. He's particularly proud of his county highway adoption bill, a variant on the popular state anti-litter program, and FireVEST, a scholarship program for volunteer firefighters.
"It's amazing how much we can accomplish if we don't care who gets the credit," he said. "I'm not worried about the credit. And people know that. I'm not patting myself on the back."
Mr. Macey, 64, has served on county council since 2006. He was a U.S. Steel boilermaker in Duquesne who found himself without a job when the plant closed in the mid-1980s. He saw the devastation of the steel industry's collapse firsthand, at one point handing out food packages to fellow workers.
So he headed back to college, earning a degree in business management from CCAC and a number of certifications elsewhere. After a stint at the United Way, a number of years at car dealerships and a short time as an insurance adjuster, Mr. Macey settled at Century Heritage Federal Credit Union, where he is the director of business development and community relations.
Economic development is his top priority for another term, particularly the long-awaited Mon-Fayette Expressway. Years of living in West Mifflin and beneath the shadow of former steel mills have shown him enough of decline.
"When the mill shut down, I happened to be on public assistance twice," he said. "It was a hand up so I could get back on my feet. If you try and you want it, you can get it."
It hasn't always been easy. Earlier this year, Mr. Macey was charged with driving under the influence in Venango County; his first court date is later this month. He says he has undergone treatment and regrets the bad decision to drive.
Ms. Jabbour, 62, sat on West Mifflin council for six years, presiding for a time as vice president. Born in Pittsburgh, she has spent the past 40 years in West Mifflin, where she has seen plenty of work that needs to be done, she said.
"The Mon Valley has been put on the back burner for a long, long time," she said. "It's about time we've gotten recognized."
She also lists economic development at the top of her list but says she's concerned about property tax reassessment countywide. Calling the current reassessment "taxation without representation," she said the system needs to be improved.
She also touched on the plan to drill for natural gas at Pittsburgh International Airport, saying that while she doesn't know the full story, she's concerned that the royalties will benefit only the airport.
Ms. Jabbour has a familial political connection: Her husband, Caleem "Jay" Jabbour, a former West Mifflin councilman, also served on county council a decade ago.
Having his advice and experience makes it easier to see the challenges facing Allegheny County, she said.
"There's a lot of times that I knew what was going on when he was there," she said. "Not that he would tell me, he had the inside, just like I had the inside when I was on borough council."
Andrew McGill: email@example.com or 412-263-1497.